Research firm DFC Intelligence, working in partnership with virtual economy services platform Live Gamer, has projected that the freemium MMO category (called "MMOG Lite" by DFC) will be worth $7 billion worldwide by 2015. DFC includes the social game category as part of its projections. This projection is based on data gathered for DFC and Live Gamer's recent user survey, called "Consumer Trends in Virtual Goods and Downloadable Gaming in North America and Europe." 

In North America and Europe, DFC estimates that the MMOG Lite category generated over $800 million in 2009 and will generate over $3 billion by 2015. The study found that Asian MMOG Lites that usually require client downloads convert roughly 10% of all players, while a freemium social game like FarmVille might convert only 1% of its players. DFC interprets this as games being able to turn a profit on lower conversion rates when they're easier for new users to begin playing. 

The study also questions whether freemium games really generate a lot of revenue through purchases that could reasonably be called microtransactions. The value of the average purchase in a freemium game is over $10 and most successful games offer a subscription option for avid players. In the 145 freemium games worldwide that are using Live Gamer platform services, the average revenue per paying users is $28. 

"I see it more as adding a virtual goods component on top of the game and keeping the subscriptions. If you're World of Wracraft, you can add a virtual item model onto those games, even to games sold at retail, this is why free-to-playis so misleading, you can put virtual goods in anything. What virtual goods does is give you more flexibility, to sell the $15 month subscription and then sell items on top of that," said DFC analyst David Cole.

Data for this survey was gathered in January and February 2010. The sample consisted of 5000 gamers who lived in North America and Europe. Broader conclusions were derived from a study of seven years of microtransaction data provided by Live Gamer, tracking games published in countries including Korea, the US, Japan, Germany, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  You can order the full report here. A synopsis of the last DFC/Live Gamer survey release is available here.

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